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Check out our February feature of folktales from the Qatari oral tradition.

First Read—“Knowingly Willingly,” from “A New Divan”

By Gonca Özmen
Translated By Jo Shapcott

Gonca Özmen’s poem “Knowingly Willingly” is excerpted from A New Divan: A Lyrical Dialogue between East & West. Jo Shapcott’s English version is based on a literal translation from the Turkish by Maureen Freely and Özge Çallı Spike.

Edited by Barbara Schwepcke and Bill Swainson and forthcoming from Gingko, A New Divan is an anthology of twenty-four original poems—twelve by poets from the “East” (including Adonis, Don Paterson, Nujoom Alghanem, and Fatemeh Shams) and twelve by poets from the “West” (including Homero Aridjis, Durs Grünbein, Angélica Freitas, and Gilles Ortlieb). 


Knowingly Willingly


The shadows were so insane I tasted them
And spoke them, though I said I wouldn’t

Love, never take me home again
Least of all to that house, and especially not at night

Empty my bottom drawer, incinerate my garden,
Fling me out like the hick I am,

So awkward in your tall ancestral halls
Which coil into each other, into you, into time

Love, forgive me at night, most of all at night:
Let me go back to the dance, the crowd

My body is a gun made of sorrow
aimed at you

Don’t snag me into your trap
This is nothing compared to what I ran from

Love, save me from those mornings,
from those long tables, those elegant rooms

You could go swimming in the marshes of death
and still dive back freely into those mornings

with the approval of your mother’s fine cheekbone,
me in my holey tights stumbling through breakfast.



Love, listen to me at night, most of all at night
So I can let these words fall from my tongue

Prickly threads of sound
Nothing like my voice

Love, night-times, lay me down on a bed of wine
Distilled from your poverty, poured from your fears

Tell the fresias and jasmines about me
And most of all tell the dervishes, especially at night



Love, see a world in me, a peeled grape
Ignore the spinning machinery outside

Forget the pain I keep pressing on you,
Let it rest, let it fade into the distance

Catch an apple, a burst of street talk, a catcall,
an explosion of laughter in your ear.

Love, you streamed through my voice like water
What you’ve dropped didn’t fall from your pockets

Waiting, I’ve gathered more dust
Than an undisturbed vase

There is meaning in an undone button
It is words which kill their targets

Love, lean into me, look at me
You touch me but you left ages ago

Even water’s too busy to flow with me
No one’s coming to put a stop to the night, to let morning in.



Excerpted from A New Divan: A Lyrical Dialogue between East & West, published by Gingko. Original poem in Turkish copyright © Gonca Özmen 2019. English language version copyright © Jo Shapcott 2019. By arrangement with the publisher.

Published May 22, 2019   Copyright 2019 Gonca Özmen

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